How Should You Lead Your Board Of Directors?

After serving on several boards and consulting with many others, I have seen common problems or decisions made by leadership that resurface again and again. These issues hold boards back from giving their best effort and performance. If any of these seem familiar, you should see what you can do to improve your board leadership address them.

14 Tips For Strong Board Leadership

  1. Successful leaders know they must deal in facts to make good decisions. Try meeting with directors outside of board or committee meetings with no agenda. Just meet one-on-one to pick their brains, listen, or solicit their honest feedback on issues the agency is facing.
  2. If you have an advisory council, use it. Council members do not appreciate being recruited and then rarely consulted. Also, be sure to keep them in the loop of important goings on so they can feel informed and ready when you seek their opinions. 
  3. Healthy conflict on the board is OK. Confident leaders encourage diverse opinions when making decisions. Don’t stifle disagreements unless the discussions get personal. Then, stop them immediately, remind everyone that personal comments or attacks are out of bounds and try again.
  4. Strive to engage the entire board in discussions as much as possible. Avoid letting senior directors crowd out new recruits. Try reaching out intentionally to new directors who are quiet or seemingly afraid to join the discussion.
  5. Executive directors and development directors work hard to develop relationships with donors. Unsuccessful ones look at donors as walking check books.
  6. Smart leaders delegate as much as possible to others. Agency leaders should delegate most assignments to subordinates to develop them. Board chairs can make extensive use of board committees to study and investigate pending issues before bringing them to the board for action.
  7. Top running agencies provide subordinates and new directors with chances to take on challenging assignments That is how they professionally grow and derive enjoyment in their service.
  8. When recruiting new director candidates for board service, take time to clearly explain your expectations. This would include meeting attendance, committee participation, financial support, volunteer commitments, etc.  Boards undergoing turmoil can trace their problems to poor on-boarding of new directors.
  9. Board chairs who allow meetings and discussions to drag on and on endlessly will lose high value directors and end up with a mediocre board, at best. Don’t be a weak chair – don’t be Atilla the Hun either – but don’t be a weak chair. Boards and directors want to be led.
  10. Don’t let meetings adjourn until the board secretary has captured all the agreed upon future action steps, assignments, and due dates that arose from board discussions.
  11. Board chairs and executive directors who don’t have the moral courage to speak truth when necessary usually end up with bigger problems than the ones they are avoiding now by skirting truth. 
  12. Always be recruiting potential board chairs onto the board, not just directors, to build a strong bench of candidates capable of filling the top board spot. It is better to have too many qualified candidates than too few.
  13. Don’t let disengaged, disruptive, or disinterested directors remain on the board. Work to counsel them to get their performance back up to expectations or create a plan for their removal and replacement.
  14. If boards meet infrequently, smart leaders engage with directors between meetings. Leaders keep valuable directors involved and feeling needed. 


Get Your Board On The Path To Success

I find honest and timely discussion helps avoid most operational or relational problems. Don’t hold back on bringing things to a head when necessary. Setting clear expectations helps nurture  top performing board. Everyone will focus on the main issues before them.

Try bringing some of these practices into your agency and your board leadership style. How can I help you with that? Good luck!

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